Deputies' Trial Opens in Theft of Drug Funds : Law enforcement: In second case arising from sting, prosecution says officers in elite unit had a code of silence about corruption, in which $100,000 was allegedly taken from dealers.

From Times Wire Services

Five sheriff's deputies and a Los Angeles police officer accused of beating suspects and stealing drug money were bound in conspiracy that was cloaked in a "code of silence," a federal prosecutor said Friday in opening arguments of the lawmen's trial.

"No one would rat on anyone else, even though they knew that misconduct had been committed," Assistant U.S. Atty. Michael Emmick told a federal jury.

The deputies conspired in at least 18 incidents in which they beat suspects and skimmed drug money to fund a "kitty" used to pay unauthorized bonuses to informants and buy weapons for themselves, Emmick said.

They also allegedly kept thousands of dollars for personal use and took merchandise from searched houses.

"At the center of this case is a code of silence within the police," Emmick said.

"Once they are in the conspiracy, they can't get out," because they would be fired for participating in the crimes or for simply failing to report them, he said.

They are the second group of officers to stand trial in Operation Big Spender, a federal investigation that uncovered an allegedly established practice in which deputies skimmed seized drug money.

Prosecutors allege that the six men, while assigned to an elite anti-drug unit known as the Lennox/Southwest Crew, violated suspects' civil rights with beatings, perjured testimony and illegally seizing property, while taking more than $100,000 in drug money from dealers.

The 34-count grand jury indictment also alleges that they stole cocaine to plant on a suspect and lied on search warrants.

The deputies are Jesse (J.C.) Miller, 47, of Los Angeles; John Leo Edner, 44, of San Dimas; Roger R. Garcia, 45, of Anaheim; Edward D. Jamison, 41, of Chino, and Robert Tomaire, 42, of Cerritos.

Also charged is Los Angeles Police Officer Stephen W. Polak, a former sheriff's deputy who was one of several police officers who worked with the Lennox Crew and who was the first to be arrested in the case.

If convicted, each officer faces a maximum sentence of 43 years in prison and more than $1 million in fines.

In the first case stemming from the 1988 corruption investigation, seven sheriff's deputies were convicted last year on federal charges of theft, tax evasion and money laundering.

Three other deputies were named in the third indictment, unsealed earlier this month, which charges that they stole hundreds of thousands of dollars during drug raids.

In a reverse of the usual courtroom practice, federal prosecutors will use convicted drug dealers to testify against the officers.

Convicted drug dealer Ricky (Freeway Rick) Donnell Ross, and more than a dozen felons who represent 268 arrests, are expected to testify against the officers.

Prosecutors successfully sought to suppress mention of most crimes for which the witnesses have been convicted.

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